On Thursday, February 13, my husband will turn off his alarm at 4:45 a.m. and climb into the shower. He will get dressed, start the coffee, make the kids' sandwiches for their lunches, and he will eat his breakfast. I will get up at 5 a.m., join him in the living room for our brief morning conversation over coffee before the chaos of getting everyone out the door commences at 6:15 a.m. It will be like every other week day. We will talk to the kids about what will be happening at school that day, I will remind them to get their bags ready for the afternoon's swim practice, and I will kiss everyone goodbye as they head out for their days of work and school.
The only difference about that particular day is that, in the forefront of my husband's mind, and my own, will be the bitter fact that it is the 20th anniversary since the death of his mother. Every year since that awful day, we have stopped to remember her. Every year, we talk about what she missed in our life by being taken too young. Every year, we remember how powerful her love was for her children and we strive to give our own kids - her grandchildren - the same.
Sue was a mom, and if you asked her what she did and what she was, that is likely the very first thing she would have told you. She was a commanding presence, but not in any kind of overbearing way. She was gentle, but led her family with strength, and when she was suffering from the viciousness of cancer, sometimes you hardly knew it. She smiled a lot, she laughed a lot, and I'm told she had kind of a naughty sense of humor, something that my husband was too young to notice or appreciate before she left the world.
Breast cancer struck her in her thirties. She had two young sons, and no time for being sick. She beat it once, with the love and support of her family and friends, but mostly due to her own strong will. But it returned, and it took her when my husband was 20, and his brother was 16. It made a widower out of their father, and it left two boys with questions of "why". They were angry, they were devastated. You see, good people shouldn't suffer, mothers shouldn't leave their families, kind and generous people like Sue shouldn't have to feel pain. That's not how the world works in the mind of a boy who doesn't realize just how incredible his mother was until she was taken from him. And 20 years later, that's just how that same boy, now 40, feels.
We are old enough to understand that life isn't fair, not that it's easier, though. We talk all the time about how proud Sue would be of her grandchildren. We see her legacy in their many smiles, and how my children possess that same commanding yet humble presence. She would have given the same love and devotion to her four grandchildren that she did to her two sons, and the hugs would have been unending.
Cancer just doesn't really care who you are or what plans you have for life. Cancer is such a bastard.
In the 20 years since Sue passed, we have watched my father-in-law fight and beat cancer, and we have watched two of our young cousins beat cancer's ass hard. We worry what this means for our own children, whether they will be faced with the same fight one, two, or three decades from now. We wonder if our grandchildren will be left without their father or their mother because of cancer. What a crappy thought thing to have to think about.
If you have beaten cancer, you are amazing! If you know someone that has beaten cancer, make sure that they know that you think they are amazing. And if you have lost someone to cancer, never forget them.
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American Cancer Society